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D H Lawrence and the impertinence of the journey author


One technique to keep away from disillusionment is to remain at house, one other is to fortify your illusions till they’re unassailable. When D H Lawrence went to Sardinia in 1921 it was ostensibly ‘to see if I ought to wish to dwell there’. The thought had come to him the earlier yr: to journey from one Italian island – Sicily, the place he was residing in Taormina – to a different. The ensuing ebook, Sea and Sardinia, printed later that yr, stands as a unusually luminous landmark within the historical past of journey writing. No ebook has made me suppose extra deeply, extra uncomfortably, in regards to the impertinence of describing a spot that isn’t your own home – about what’s owed to your topic, and what’s owed to your reader, and about whether or not these twin obligations can ever be reconciled.

D H Lawrence photographed by Elliott & Fry, c1915. Picture courtesy the Nationwide Portrait Gallery, London

Lawrence makes me consider a kind of kinetic watches – motion itself made him tick. Between the armistice of 1918 and his dying 12 years later he not often settled for lengthy, even when his life continued to circle explicit centres of gravity – Sicily, New Mexico, Germany. He wrote 4 books that may, with some liberty, be described as journey writing, showing at roughly five-year intervals: Twilight in Italy in 1916, Sea and Sardinia in 1921, Mornings in Mexico in 1927, and Sketches of Etruscan Locations, printed unfinished, two years after his dying, in 1932.

Mornings in Mexico, the final journey ebook he noticed printed, begins with a mature traveller’s perception: ‘We discuss so grandly, in capital letters, about Morning in Mexico. All it quantities to is one little particular person a little bit of sky and bushes, then wanting down on the web page of his train ebook.’ Few journey writers have so guiltlessly delighted in their very own subjectivity, and nowhere is Lawrence’s delight extra evident than in Sea and Sardinia. He perceives the island with a readability that electrifies him, like an individual with new glasses, a brand new listening to support, newly in love. It’s the ebook – at the very least amongst his nonfiction – wherein he permits himself to be most seen to his readers. Seen on the expense of the place itself, it’s true. Seen to the extent you generally need to look away.

Lawrence’s birthland, a jail of ‘ethical judgment and condemnation and reservation’, was by no means going to include him, however his first foray past Britain didn’t happen till Could 1912, when he was 26. With Frieda Weekley, the German spouse of his former language tutor, he absconded to Germany – Metz, Waldbröl, Munich, Mayrhofen, Breuberg. Then in August, over the Alps to Gargnano, Italy: a ‘slightly tumble-downish place on the lake [Garda]’, he wrote to his buddy, the critic Edward Garnett. ‘I shall dwell overseas I believe without end.’ And by and enormous he would.

In Gargnago he wrote with an vitality outstanding even by his volcanic requirements: two performs, the tip of Sons and Lovers (printed in 1913), the beginning of The Rainbow (1915), and the essays that will turn out to be Twilight in Italy. He cherished Gargnano and the water, may certainly have stayed without end – however then, as rapidly as he fell in love with it, he discovered the place insufferable. This was the journey sample, for Lawrence, enchantment at all times a preface to disenchantment. ‘Journey appears to me a splendid lesson in disillusion,’ he informed his buddy the actress Mary Cannan. To one more buddy, Earl Brewster, he was blunter: ‘Don’t have concepts about locations, simply since you’re not in them. All locations are powerful and terrestrial.’ He dreaded familiarity, and will really feel it approaching. He at all times needed to really feel as if he had simply jumped off the prepare. His life, consequently, was a cycle of alighting adopted by decamping. Not that he appeared to seek out this exhausting, not in any respect.

Returning to England on the outbreak of warfare was like being recalled from bail. In 1915, broke and sick and craving solitude, he moved, with Frieda, to a distant village in Cornwall. Lawrence and his German spouse have been unlikely ever to be welcomed. Their new neighbours noticed that the author, who was apparently too weak to bear arms, was strong sufficient to rake his backyard. In late 1917, their cottage was turned over by the native police and so they have been basically deported again to London, on suspicion, ludicrously, of spying for Germany.

When unsure, transfer. The place, was at all times the query

With peace got here freedom to desert hopeless, ruined England for what he would name his ‘savage pilgrimage’. If Lawrence’s travels have been a pursuit, they have been additionally a flight from all of the warfare represented. This he had in widespread with a lot of his British contemporaries, who have been equally desirous to be gone as soon as borders reopened; not like most of them, nonetheless, Lawrence wasn’t a vacationer, in as far as he by no means actually got here again. Any centripetal drive England had as soon as exerted upon him had been sapped. He was free.

First, again to Italy, then: Florence, Picinisco, Capri and, on 8 March 1920, the highest ground of a villa, Fontana Vecchia, in Taormina on Sicily’s Ionian coast: stillness. ‘Pink gladioli, and pink snapdragons, and orchids.’ A desk, huge views throughout the Strait of Messina. ‘Dwelling in Sicily after the warfare years was like coming to life once more,’ Frieda would recall. And so, for some time, Fontana Vecchia turned a brand new centre – someplace to gentle out from, someplace to return to. ‘I like this place greater than another,’ he wrote. He felt he had lived there for 100,000 years. ‘Lascia mi stare.’ Let me be.

However by October he was writing to fellow author Catherine Carswell: ‘I shan’t keep in Taormina, I believe – maybe go to Germany for the summer time, maybe to Sardinia.’ To Cannan, two months later: ‘I’m cogitating whether or not to take this home for an additional yr, or whether or not to retire to the wilds of Sardinia. Which?’ Which, or slightly the place, was at all times the query. For simply as he had uninterested in an earlier Italian island, Capri, now he was tiring of Sicily, and of Taormina, a city populated, he insisted, by ‘probably the most silly individuals on earth’, not excluding his fellow English expats ‘cultivating their egos onerous, one in opposition to the opposite’.

When unsure, transfer. In a ebook evaluation, written in 1926, he steered that each one journey is undertaken ‘with a secret and absurd hope of setting foot on the Hesperides, of operating our boat up somewhat creek and touchdown within the Backyard of Eden. This hope’ – in fact – ‘is at all times defeated.’

Sardinia (Ital. Sardegna, Greek Sardo), located between 38° 51’ and 41° 15’ N latitude and separated from Corsica by the Strait of Bonifacio (7½ M vast), is, subsequent to Sicily, the biggest island within the Mediterranean. Its size from N to S is 166 M, its breadth from E to W 89 M …
– from Baedeker’s Southern Italy and Sicily (sixteenth ed, 1912)

Lawrence and Frieda have been on the island for barely 5 days in complete in January 1921, travelling by steam prepare and submit bus from Cagliari within the south to modern-day Olbia on the northeastern coast, a journey of round 150 miles. He took no pocket book, however did pack a replica of Baedeker’s Southern Italy and Sicily, with Excursions to Sardinia, Malta, and Corfu. The sixteenth version, printed 9 years earlier, goes on to inform us that the ‘Sardinian character is grave and dignified in contrast with that of the vivacious Italians, and they’re famous for his or her chivalric sense of honour and their hospitality.’ Sardinia, then, was not Italy: this was a part of the island’s promise for Lawrence, and never simply because he’d had it with ‘probably the most silly individuals on earth’.

In actual fact, his preconceptions fastened lengthy earlier than leaving Fontana Vecchia, he would discover little in Sardinia that he had not deliberate to seek out – that was not preformed inside himself. ‘Sardinia, which is like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no historical past, no date, no race, no providing. Let or not it’s Sardinia.’ A vacation spot, lastly: the Backyard of Eden. ‘It lies exterior; exterior the circuit of civilisation.’ He solely wanted to open that little ebook, with its crimson leatherette cowl, to study in regards to the incursions ‘civilisation’ had made into the island’s lengthy story.

On the similar time, he did imagine what he stated: a spot may exist that had been spared all that Europe had subjected itself to, and never simply the warfare – all of it, proper again to when ‘the mentality of Greece appeared on the earth’! He would go searching for that realm and maybe, if we take him at his phrase, make it his house. And so he set off with Frieda – ‘the q-b’, as she is named in Sea and Sardinia: queen bee. On the ‘fourth day of the yr 1921’, they travelled by prepare from Catania to Palermo, the place they boarded the steamer for the Sardinian capital of Cagliari. We get a clue as to what he was actually searching for earlier than their steamer even reaches Sardinia: ‘I needed in my soul the voyage may final for ever, that the ocean had no finish’; and later: ‘Ah if one may sail for ever … To not be clogged to the land any extra.’ Lastly, they reached Cagliari on Thursday 6 January, which from afar, Lawrence famous, has a ‘curious look, as if it could possibly be seen, however not entered’.

He by no means ceased to imagine that journey may liberate one from time

In a way, town remained inaccessible to him. ‘We climb a broad flight of steps, at all times upwards, up the vast, precipitous, dreary boulevard with sprouts of bushes.’ ‘Unusual, stony’ Cagliari; ‘dreary’ Cagliari. Dreary many times, very Lawrentian. ‘The Cathedral should have been a advantageous previous pagan stone fortress as soon as. Now it has come, because it have been, via the mincing machine of the ages, and oozed out baroque and sausagey.’ When ‘historical past’ was unignorable it stood just for a sort of cultural mongrelisation to be deplored. ‘For the remainder I’m not Baedeker.’ True. Was it simply that he was hungry?

‘If one travels one eats,’ he writes, and Sea and Sardinia will be seen as a sort of culinary diary, albeit one wherein meals is a pretext to indulge his disgust – from the ‘huge yellow omelette, like some log of bilious wooden’ on the voyage over, to the ‘robust boiled cauliflower’ in Sorgono, ‘which one ate, with the coarse bread, out of sheer starvation’. The additional north he goes, deeper into the island, the thinner the broth will get, the more durable the bread and the extra impertinent the service. Lawrence, in fact, relishes each mouthful, each resentful ‘beldame’ slamming down a plate earlier than him.

As for Cagliari, what delights him just isn’t the cattedrale di Santa Maria di Castello, or the piazza Costituzione, or the bastione di Saint Remy; however the vegetable market – stuff that will quickly go off, which was maybe the purpose. It was the prompt that detained him at all times, journey not as a fluid development however as a sequence of impressions. No surprise he thought of calling the ebook ‘Sardinian Movies’, as if the journey have been constructed of umpteen freeze-frames.

However he won’t discover what he’s looking for in mongrel Cagliari, nonetheless onerous he seems to be. There was no such factor as flight from oneself – Cornwall had taught him that; however he by no means ceased to imagine that journey may liberate one from time. To keep up this perception, within the face of all time’s relics, it was essential to pack blinkers, alongside your tenting range and solar hat. ‘When one walks, one should journey west or south,’ he insists, absurdly, in Twilight in Italy. ‘If one turns northward or eastward it’s like strolling down a cul-de-sac.’

However that afternoon, a day after they arrived in Cagliari: north. ‘En route once more.’

The solely locations labelled on the straightforward map that Lawrence drew to accompany his ebook are these they handed via: the island existed solely in as far as he witnessed it. The road of their journey is a snail’s path, then, but additionally a capital ‘I’, tracing the ‘narrow-gauge secondary railway that pierces the centre’.

Lawrence’s unique hand-drawn map from Sea and Sardinia. Public area

From the window of the third-class carriage from Cagliari that afternoon he will get his first sight of his imagined Sardinia. What he sees is England; particularly Cornwall, that tough little nook of the nation that rejected him again in 1917. 3 times in 4 paragraphs he describes the scene from the prepare window as ‘moor-like’, after which: ‘nearly Celtic’. In his scrabbling for an analogue, I’m reminded of the British explorer Harry St John Philby, who described the towering crimson sand dunes of the Arabian Empty Quarter as ‘downs’. Even Lawrence had solely a lot expertise, and a lot language, to carry to bear on the unfamiliar.

The emblematic picture of his motion throughout the island is the determine within the panorama, ‘small however vivid black-and-white, working alone, as if eternally … All of the unusual magic of Sardinia is on this sight.’ Nothing pleases him greater than this ant personage, far off, and due to this fact probably not a human, the Sardinian peasant in his conventional outfit, bent to the land. He represents every part Lawrence had anticipated to seek out right here: manliness, individuality, multifariousness, a peasantry that is aware of its place and might think about no different. But the black-and-white ‘lord of toil’, like a determine in a portray, is at all times too distant to have its personal voice. Lawrence can proceed to think about a pure endemic sensibility that has by some means been conserved, just like the relic dinosaurs of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Misplaced World (1912).

Baedeker might be sincere: ‘The inns, besides in Cagliari, Sassari, and Macomer, are very mediocre, and away from the railways are generally fairly insupportable.’ The hilltop city of Mandas, naturally, was like Cornwall or Derbyshire or ‘part of Eire’, so far as Lawrence was involved. The panorama was ‘way more shifting, disturbing than the beautiful glamour of Italy and Greece. Earlier than the curtains of historical past lifted, one feels the world was like this.’ However as a big Mediterranean island, Sardinia had by no means been excluded from historical past’s theatre, as each crossroads and entrepôt. For the Romans, it had been a sort of penal colony to which it shipped criminals and dissidents. Invasion after invasion adopted, with successive occupations: Vandals, Goths, Greeks, Arabs, Pisans, Genoese, Aragonese, Austrians. This deep previous of colonialism, of invasion and resistance – Sardinian historical past, that’s – instilled in its populace what the Sardinia-born historian Maria Giacobbe, in Diario di una maestrina (‘Diary of a Faculty Mistress’, 1957), calls ‘a deep distrust of the implications that European affairs would have on them’. Energetic resistance settled right into a ‘rooted apoliticalness, a darkish sense of extraneity, of nonparticipation’.

But when Sardinians had as soon as been capable of take into account themselves by some means extraneous, any such phantasm had been dispelled by a warfare wherein, combating below the flag of Italy, no fewer than 2,164 members of the Sardinian Sassari Brigade had been killed. In 1921, as Lawrence and the q-b rattled north into the mountains, ‘historical past’ was as busy as ever. Shaped by survivors of the Sassari Brigade, the nationalist Sardinian Motion Celebration, below the banner of nationwide autonomy, would win 36 per cent of the vote on the island later that yr. Unseen by Lawrence, Sardinia was persevering with to vary. That distant determine in black and white was absorbed with the broader world in addition to the soil at his toes.

In Mandas, Lawrence and Frieda dine with three ‘soup-swilkering’ railway officers, and are knowledgeable that ‘at Mandas one does nothing. At Mandas one goes to mattress when it’s darkish, like a rooster.’ After a single evening, they proceed by prepare into the mountain inside, transferring to a rattling submit bus at Tonara, thence to Gavoi, Nuoro, Orosei, and – simply 5 days after arriving on the island – Terranova (since renamed Olbia) and the steamer again to the mainland. In Nuoro, as in Mandas, ‘[t]right here is nothing to see … which, to inform the reality, is at all times a aid.’ This in fact was consistent with his imaginative and prescient of the island as an entire: he didn’t want to dwell on any relics that will anchor it in time – neither the neoclassical duomo or the church of Santa Maria della Solitúdine. ‘Comfortable is the city that has nothing to point out.’ And completely satisfied the author unworried by any sense of responsibility to his topic. Effectively, nominally his topic.

For Lawrence, journey’s worth lay to find himself an alien

A distinct type of author, extra diligent, extra dutiful, would have apportioned the time not spent travelling to truly writing up the journey, or at the very least studying some books in regards to the island. However such a reflective method can be antithetical to the spirit that impressed Sea and Sardinia. He was not Baedeker, and didn’t care what anybody else made from the place. The second he bought again to Fontana Vecchia, a couple of days later, he went to work, like a mine truck dumping its ore at a smelter.

In the meantime he was excitedly scribbling letters to buddies in England: ‘We made a touch to Sardinia’; ‘We went to Sardinia – such a touch’; ‘somewhat sprint to Sardinia’; and on 12 February: ‘I’ve almost carried out somewhat travel-book.’ Barely a month after leaving, he had completed dashing off a ebook. He’d considered calling it ‘Diary of a Journey to Sardinia’, however informed his agent: ‘Use what title you want:’

– A Second of Sardinia
A Swoop on Sardinia
A Sprint via Sardinia
Sardinian Movies or
Movie of Sicily and Sardinia
– the ‘Diary’ title was merely provisional.

As Paul Fussell factors out in Overseas (1980) – his examine of British journey writing between the wars – Lawrence’s first journey ebook, Twilight in Italy, carries in its title an concept of reconciliation: as Lawrence places it, between ‘solar and darkness, day and evening, spirit and senses’. ‘The place, then,’ he asks, ‘is the meeting-point?’ The place. Was that the reason for his skittishness? ‘Comes over one an absolute necessity to maneuver,’ reads the primary line of Sea and Sardinia. Throughout the next decade, it will overcome him many times, compelling him to Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Rarotonga, Tahiti, america, Mexico, Germany, France, Italy, Scotland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy as soon as extra; and eventually, after a stint on the sanatorium in Vence, on the French Riviera, on 2 March 1930, an finish to movement. (An finish, although the sanatorium’s identify can’t have escaped him: Advert Astra, ‘to the celebs’.)

In his final journey ebook, Mornings in Mexico, printed 11 years after his first, Lawrence’s insistence on distinction – distinction that lies far beneath the superficies of ‘tradition’ – curdled into one thing desolating: ‘Our means of consciousness is completely different from and deadly to the Indian. The 2 methods, the 2 streams are by no means to be united. They aren’t even to be reconciled. There isn’t a bridge, no canal of connexion.’ As soon as, he had gone out in the hunt for that bridge or canal – that ‘twilight’; now, his blinkers had narrowed to a chink. ‘To faux that each one is one stream is to trigger chaos and nullity.’

Since his closing departure, the trajectory of journey writing as a style (in as far as it may be known as a style) has, fortunately, tended in the other way. The journey author Jan Morris, who was Lawrence’s antithesis in her erudition, steered in a 1997 interview with The Paris Evaluate that journey itself may contribute to exactly what Lawrence repudiated: that it may be ‘a quest for unity, a seek for wholeness’. If, for Lawrence, journey’s worth lay to find himself an alien, for Morris, it lay in recognising herself, many times, within the face of the stranger. These approaches usually are not, themselves, irreconcilable.

In a tribute written after Lawrence’s dying, Rebecca West recalled a visit she and the author Norman Douglas made in 1921 to go to him in Florence (the place Lawrence was staying, true to kind, in a ‘poorish resort’ overlooking ‘a trench of drab and turbid water’). ‘Douglas,’ she writes, ‘had described how on arriving in a city Lawrence used to go straight from the railway station to his resort and instantly sit down and hammer out articles in regards to the place, vehemently and exhaustively describing the temperament of the individuals.’ And when the pair discovered him, what was he doing however exactly that, ‘pounding out articles on the momentary state of Florence with nothing extra to go on than a glimpse of it’? If it appeared to West ‘clearly a foolish factor to do’, she later got here to understand his technique: ‘I used to be naive. I do know now that he was writing in regards to the state of his personal soul at that second.’

His description of his soul because it was throughout these 5 days on Sardinia was not universally celebrated again in England, and didn’t promote. The novelist and critic Francis Hackett conceded it was ‘lovely’ however objected to its ‘mid-Victorian gush’; solely when its creator ‘lifts us over his grinding account of his personal temperament,’ he complains, do ‘we have now an excellent likelihood to take pleasure in Sardinia’. However can we, even then? There’s not a lot ‘escapism’ to be gleaned from Sea and Sardinia, until you discover liberation in being crammed into the thoughts of David Herbert Lawrence. To recommend, as Anthony Burgess did, that he by some means ‘extracted the very essence of the island and its individuals’ in these few hurried days is hubristic, but additionally misses the ebook’s level. As West appropriately understood, the essence Lawrence was excited by extracting was his personal. When he steered that Sardinia was ‘like nowhere’, he didn’t imply not like anyplace else. He was imagining a spot past the attain of maps. What’s outstanding is that, lower than two years later, he discovered it, not within the Outdated World however the New.

In 1921 a rich American heiress named Mabel Dodge Sterne, who had been dazzled by Sea and Sardinia and believed that solely its creator was able to describing the panorama of New Mexico, invited Lawrence and Frieda to remain at her ranch close to Taos. Lawrence was ravished by the desert’s ‘pure and overweening’ gentle, as each newcomer is. ‘[F]or a greatness of magnificence I’ve by no means skilled something like New Mexico.’ He believed he had discovered it, that which had eluded him in Sardinia: not simply isolation, which was low cost, however a set of coordinates that stood aside from time. It ‘was the best expertise from the surface world that I’ve ever had,’ he wrote. ‘New Mexico … liberated me from the current period of civilisation.’


Victoria Joy
I am an independent lady, working hard to share my ideas from my experiences to the whole world. I want people to be happier and to understand that your life is very very important. Walk with me and experience the beauty this world can offer by following simple logical steps.


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